[sic] Magazine

METALLICA – London o2 Arena – 02 March 2009

The o2 Arena is a soulless, huge cavern. Last time I was here, I saw The Cure from 100 feet up in the air. In the past two years, this venue – the highest selling venue pro-rata in the world with the smallest unsold ticket ratio – has seen Prince, Scissor Sisters, the Manics, Leonard Cohen, Roger Waters, and numerous others. It’s not by any means my favourite venue in the world – this goes to the now demolished Astoria, but it’s incredibly well organised and quite easy to get to, as long as the bands don’t over-run.

The first time Metallica played here, it was a relatively intimate fanclub show at £5 a ticket, and they were still debuting songs from Death Magnetic the day the record came out. The setlist was determinedly perverse with few of the big hitters (no Enter Sandman, no Sad But True, no Nothing Else Matters) and plenty of ancient LP cuts and songs from the under-loved Load and St Anger. In short, it was possibly the dream Metallica setlist for a hard-core fan who’s seen them a few times. Six months on, Death Magnetic is aging well, and the band have brought almost the whole album into their live repertoire, so the tired nostalgia shows of the past few years are now thankfully distant memories.


Thoughtfully setting the stage in the ’round’, Metallica have carefully managed to ensure that no matter where you are in the venue, you’re not far from them. Metallica aren’t distant dots, and if you’re in the standing section (as I was), you’re normally no further from the band than 20 feet. At 9.15 prompt, the band open in their traditional fashion with Ecstasy Of Gold, and then a thudding heartbeat.

In recent years, Metallica sometimes reinforce their performance with ‘taped’ intros to certain songs. Crucially this gives the band – now with a combined age of around 200 and over 100 years service to music on the stage – a moment to breathe. But when Hetfield and Hammett combine forces with double tracked riffing and Ulrich plays like a man a third of his age for the breakneck “That Was Just Your Life”, you can forget that these men are global sellers. It’s like opening a time capsule to 1986. (And not in a bad way).


Respectably selling, lazy crud would have been the easy option to produce, and touring the world endlessly on nostalgia shows. One of the reasons I have barely seen Metallica in the past half decade, despite playing frequently, is that I’m bored of bands that revisit the past and forget the present.

After the one-two gut punch of this and “The End Of The Line”, both epic 8 minute tempo challenged, dense, near classical pieces (and only a snob would say that Metallica and Orbital will not be respected in 200 years in the same manner as say, Beethoven and John Williams), Metallica debut for the first time on this tour Creeping Death. I love this song, and am overjoyed to see the return of the live arrangement – replete with gratuitous, wonderful obscenity. (Also this is the most played Metallica song of all time, appearing 1,162 times).


Metallica setlists of today ensure that nothing is predictable: about half the set is changed night from night, and whilst there are some perhaps expected choices, not even those turn up at every show. Surprise #1 comes in the form of “Holier Than Thou”, which appears for the first time in the world since 2004. (Later on, there’s “Damage Inc”, which appears at about 1 show in 20 at the moment).


Fresher new songs slot in perfectly with old ones. Unlike some shows where there’s a boo when someone says, “This is one from the new album”, it seems as if some of these songs are loved more than the old. For 20,000 voices to chant “The Slave becomes The Master!” from a six month old album is proof that, firstly, the number of times you listen to a record is no correlation to the number of times you buy it, and also that the music industry is not sick, but the business model behind it is.

Having done this type of thing for over 20 years, Metallica are now second nature at headlining arenas. The in-the-round setting is ideal. Everywhere the view is good, and the band do a lot more than just stand there and play, but dynamically engage with the audience all night(mare) long.


Flamethrowers! By God let’s not forget those. They’re incredibly warm. Plus moving coffins, rotating drumkits – all this makes it sound a little smoke-and-mirrors to cover the lack of … something, but unlike some bands, Metallica are ultimately all about the performance itself, and don’t need any such tricks to hide behind. The show itself has peaks and dips: “Turn The Page” is a poor cover version – but only played about once a year at the moment, but for me, the room itself becomes a gigantic 20,000 strong air guitar frenzy for the triple whammy of “The Day That Never Comes”, and the awesome, one-of-the-songs-the-century that is “Master of Puppets” (played for the 1,119th time tonight). In my enthusiasm after the song I tell someone that that song is better than sex. (Which it isn’t.)


Alongside the most played song of all time, encore time sees only the second ever performance of Too Late, Too Late. Ultimately, tonight’s concert proves that above and beyond all things, Metallica have become an enormous band through being one of the best live bands of all time, and now are a fiercely tight, telepathic entity of fluid musical ability that single-handedly redefined and created a genre. Some bands undeservedly claim their title or position and become complacent, fat, and jaded with age. Not so Metallica, who are good now as they were 20 years ago, and show no sign of faltering with age. One of the best gigs I have ever seen.



Thirsting for more from Mark? Please visit The Mark Reed website